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Kansas - Kansas - Live at the Whiskey CD (album) cover

KANSAS - LIVE AT THE WHISKEY

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

2.85 | 34 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars I have had mixed feelings about this record since it was released almost fifteen years ago. In general Kansas tends to sound as good or better live than they do in the studio. That said, the energy of their concerts doesn’t always translate to vinyl, or in this case tape since I have the cassette version. My favorite live Kansas recordings are ‘Two for the Show’ and the fairly well-known bootleg Mayhem Symphony. The latter is technically a bootleg I guess, but since it has been issued by PRRP it has a certain sense of legitimacy. Both are two-disc sets, and both were recorded in the band’s heyday of the latter seventies. This one was recorded at arguably one of the lowest points of the band’s long history, and in many places that shows.

This was the first time Steve Walsh’s very ragged vocals were actually put out on an official release of the band, and though he is clearly very motivated and does an admirable job of masking his limitations, the sound can be quite jarring for those who remember the limitless range of his better days. There are some cheap reissues of this concert (recorded in Los Angeles on April 5, 1992) under other titles, and it is pretty easy to tell where those versions chopped up the concert and reordered the playlist. Walsh’s voice starts off pretty well but starts to crack during “Song for America”, and by the time “Miracles out of Nowhere” rolls around his voice is pretty raw. Too bad because this used to be one of his signature forays into the vocal stratosphere. A couple of the last tracks are songs violinist Robby Steinhardt used to do most of the singing on, so they are in a lower register and Walsh doesn’t have as much trouble making these work (“Down the Road”, Mysteries and Mayhem”). I’m sure the band knew his voice wouldn’t hold up and set the playlist to compensate.

The selection is pretty good though, steering clear of the ‘Power’ and ‘In the Spirit of Things’ songs that fans don’t really want to hear live anyway. By far the best performance is “Lonely Street”, but this was taken from a 1975 concert in Cleveland Ohio and features the original band lineup. The contrast between Walsh’s voice on this one and “Carry on Wayward Son” just twelve minutes earlier on the record is shocking.

Kerry Livgren makes an appearance for “Dust in the Wind”, and this one comes off flawlessly. The slight cracks and huskiness in Walsh’s voice give it a nostalgic sound that is rather poignant, and David Ragsdale’s violin work is impeccable above Livgren’s acoustic picking. I can picture the disposable lighters floating in the dark even now.

The rest of the album is a snapshot of a band in the midst of the transition from world- touring headliners to the oldies circuit. The thing that stands out the most is the very high level of musicianship in the playing though. If you dubbed out the vocals you might find it tough to differentiate the instrument tracks from their studio originals, except in a few places (“Song for America”, “Portrait”, “the Wall”) where the guitar work might even be better than it was when those songs were first recorded. There are a few disappointments, most notably the very abbreviated version of “Magnum Opus” (only the ‘Howling at the Moon’ section), and the little bit of grandstanding at the end of “Carry on Wayward Son”, which the band had a tendency to do with that song in a lot of concerts back then.

Some of the liner notes are kind of signs of the times as well: the band’s special thanks include shout-outs to country superstar Garth Brooks (who was known to mix a few Kansas standards in his live shows from time-to-time); and to Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame, presumably for recommending the garish and dated wardrobe Steve Walsh is wearing in the inner sleeve photo.

If I were to recommend a live Kansas album to a noob or someone who wanted to hear the band’s signature live sound, this would be the last one on the list. “Two for the Show” would be the first, followed probably by the King Biscuit Valentine’s Day recording from 1989, and then ‘Device-Voice-Drum’.

But this is an important milestone in the band’s history, even if it is not a particularly positive one. So I would recommend this to Kansas fans just for its historical value. That said, this is not essential, and not even all that good, so it gets the ‘collectors-only’ mark of two stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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